Outgoing Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) held his first one-on-one meeting with his successor, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, on Friday to discuss the handover of Israel’s Treasury responsibilities before Lapid is sworn into the job on Monday.
Sources close to Lapid, who had in the past said he doesn’t “understand a thing about economics,” said he has been holding a series of meetings with finance industry professionals in recent days to beef up his financial acumen.
Lapid addressed the matter in a Facebook post Friday, saying: “I am familiar of course, with the sophisticated thesis that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu offered me the [finance] portfolio in order for me to fail, so that he could get rid of a potential rival. But like most conspiracy theories, this one does not hold much weight. Even those who do not believe Netanyahu should know that if the minister of finance fails, he takes the prime minister with him. Give me credit, assume I knew the risks involved [when agreeing to take the post.] If we fail to drag Israel’s economy out of the mud, Netanyahu will be hurt as bad as me. We both need to work together.”
“After carefully examining the possibilities, I realized that taking on any other job meant letting myself off easily. The Foreign Ministry would have been more fun, but I campaigned with the slogan ‘Where is the money?’ and I am committed to that statement,” Lapid added.
Lapid, a former newspaper columnist, dismissed claims that the finance minister needs to be a professional economist. “The finance minister needs to be someone who wages daily battle to protect the state’s economy and its public. In my case, the finance minister will also wage daily battle to protect the Israeli middle class, which has been neglected for two decades. It won’t be easy, and things will be worse before they get better, but anybody who has followed the progress of Yesh Atid knows I do not shy away from battles,” he concluded.
The freshman politician signed a coalition agreement with Netanyahu Friday afternoon, shortly after a similar agreement was signed by Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett, ending six weeks of tumultuous coalition negotiations and setting the stage for the 33rd government to be established.
Aside from Lapid, four other Yesh Atid members will receive Cabinet posts. Party members will head the ministries of education, social welfare, health, and science and technology.
Lapid, whose new party garnered a surprising 19 seats in the January 22 elections, enters the government after managing to wrestle from Netanyahu some major concessions, particularly in the field of governance reform.
One of his achievements was decreasing the number of seats in the government. The 33rd government will have only 22 ministers (about a third less than the previous cabinet) with commitments to lower the number to 18, with four deputy ministers, in subsequent governments. The Yesh Atid-Likud Beytenu deal also promised to do away with the post of minister without portfolio, its renewal contingent on a 70 MK majority in the Knesset.
Likud-Beytenu negotiators also agreed to sign off on a pledge to work towards increasing the minimum threshold for political parties to 4 percent of the national vote, up from 2%, starting from the next elections.
Another last minute compromise, over the title of deputy prime minister, stipulated that if any ministers receive that title in the future, Lapid will too. That issue threatened to railroad coalition talks between Likud-Beytenu and Jewish Home Thursday.
More substantively, Yesh Atid’s alliance with Jewish Home also succeeded in seeing through a government commitment to introduce radical social reform by bringing ultra-Orthodox men into military service and the workforce, and establishing that a “core curriculum” that includes math, science, and English be taught in ultra-Orthodox schools.
A ministerial committee headed by Yesh Atid will submit a bill for a more equal share of the burden to the government within 45 days of its swearing in. The “core curriculum” reform is also to be speedily legislated, as are reforms that reduce preferential treatment for the ultra-Orthodox sector in areas including public housing.
The Yesh Atid coalition deal also requires new government efforts to restart diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu will present his new government to President Shimon Peres on Saturday evening and the new Cabinet is set to be sworn in at the Knesset on Monday.
The new coalition will be made up of 68 MK from four parties: Likud-Beytenu (31), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12) and Hatnua (6).
The opposition will be led by Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich.